The second album from Welsh producer and multi-instrumentalist The Anchoress (aka Catherine Anne Davies), according to the accompanying blurb, ‘navigates the detritus of death… an album made in the process of trying to climb out of grief and explores how we make something from the losses in our lives.’
As such, it’s an album of no small gravity, emerging as it does from a catalogue of virtual traumas spanning the death of close relatives and a battle with cancer to name but two harrowing experiences which form the backdrop to its creation. It takes the idea of a ‘difficult’ second album to another level. But for all the dark themes, this is very much a pop-leaning album, albeit one with what you would reasonably call an alternative / indie leaning. It’s also a complex, articulate album, that’s rich and layered, showcasing some remarkable compositional skills, which are utilised to render songs that are often moving, but also memorable, catchy even.
‘Moon Rise (Prelude)’ is a soft instrumental piece, piano accompanied by gliding strings. It’s not so much a calm before a storm, as a gentle easing intro the album’s expansive atmosphere, richly flavoured with cinematic orchestration.
‘Let it Hurt’ brings some interesting production twists that bring a hint of contemporary psychedelia to proceedings, while elsewhere, ‘Show Your Face’ is a rush of 80s-vintage alternative pop that boasts what one would justifiably refer to as an ‘anthemic’ chorus.
‘The Exchange’, featuring James Dean Bradfield is an expansive miniature epic, with the guitars blurring into a haze– but more than anything, it calls to mind Mansun’s ‘Wide Open Space’. And – perhaps unexpectedly, given Davis’ collaborative connections with Bradfield, Bernard Butler, and Simple Minds, it’s Mansun’s debut, Attack of the Grey Lantern, that The Art of Losing is most reminiscent of. That’s certainly no criticism: 'Attack' was an album out of time, immensely ambitious, and incorporated both strings and drum machines before either really became fashionable in rock or indie – it would take The Verve and, unquestionably, The Manics with 'Everything Must Go' to make that breakthrough. But there is so much happening here, so much texture, so much dynamism. ‘My Confessor’ breaks into a colossal tempest of guitar that crackles and burns, while Davies emanates all the emotion, while in contrast, ‘With the Boys’ is low-key, understated, and synth-led, and in some ways calls to mind the minimalist brooding electro of Japan.
But ultimately, running through the details of 'The Art of Losing' feels like a needless exercise, akin to picking apart the seams of your favourite coat just to demonstrate the quality of the manufacture. It’s at this point criticism and critique become futile. 'The Art of Losing' is an amazing album not for reasons you can pinpoint and dissect, but because it simply is: the quality of the songwriting and the delivery combine to deliver something special.